Rihanna can hardly ever be seen in a look that isn’t “Phresh Off the Runway.” Beyond her acclaimed R&B music and entrepreneurial ventures in beauty and apparel, Robyn Rihanna Fenty brings trendsetting looks and creative fashion choices to the red carpet and everyday streetwear alike. While her style has taken on different forms throughout the years, the common thread through it all is her ability to take risks and redefine norms across fashion with her bold looks.
The release of two-time platinum single “Pon de Replay” also marked Rihanna’s debut on the red carpet in a halter crop top and low-rise boyfriend jeans, matching the trend of the low-rise bottoms popular in the early 2000s. She appeared in a similar outfit at the MTV VMAs that year — early on, Rihanna’s style followed trends of the time as opposed to setting them.
Rihanna’s fashion stardom emerged with the release of her third studio album, “Good Girl Gone Bad,” or around the time she began to work with stylist Mariel Haenn. Her outfits began to take on an edgy and flirty aesthetic — a style that endures today. During the promotion and release of this album in 2008, Rihanna could be seen in short cropped hair and darker, edgier looks; for example, her pairing of Balenciaga gladiator sandals with a black blazer and mini skirt for BET’s “106 & Park.”
“Rated R” conveyed more somber and angry emotions than her previous albums and highlighted her re-emergence after a publicized end to an abusive relationship. For example, the album began with an ominous introduction: “We say, welcome to the mad house!” Another song, “Russian Roulette,” contains despairing lyrics like “as my life flashes before my eyes / I’m wondering if I will ever see another sunrise.”
Her style at the time paralleled the tones in this album and reflected Rihanna’s developing penchant for both men’s suits and the crossover between haute couture and high street — meaning, brands accessible to the public with high price points. Continuing the edginess, Rihanna appeared with a partially shaved head, and donned a sleek Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo with gloves and platform pumps for the 2009 Met Gala — a bold menswear-inspired look. In her daily life, she was also spotted in Soho wearing a graphic print dress from Christopher Kane and Topshop.
Rihanna maintained her streetwear style through the early 2010s. During her “Loud” tour, Rihanna wore a simple Givenchy t-shirt dress with knee-high Tom Ford snakeskin boots out and about in New York. She also began working with stylist Mel Ottenberg, who sought to showcase Rihanna’s creative expression through her fashion.
“My whole thing was she’s so beautiful, she’s so over the top, she doesn’t need so much stuff,” Ottenberg said to the New York Times. “We can strip it down.”
Simultaneously, she pulled out stunning and glamorous outfits for the red carpet, turning heads at the 2012 Met Gata in a crocodile-leather inspired backless gown designed by Miuccia.
Also in 2012 was the release of her seventh album, “Unapologetic.” She began the album with her song “Phresh Off the Runway” which chronicles her own rise in the fashion world.
One of Rihanna’s most iconic looks was the sheer gown she wore to accept her 2014 Fashion Icon of the Year prize from the CFDA. This prize signified how much Rihanna dominated the fashion scene in that year, from becoming the newest face of Balmain, to appearing on her third Vogue cover. The head of her design team, Adam Selman, created a show-stopping garment bedazzled with 230,000 Swarovski crystals — a look that transcended and shattered fashion norms on modesty and female celebrity attire.
Rihanna also became a muse to the designers themselves. Olivier Rousteing of Balmain said of his spring campaign in 2014, that it was “celebrating my age, my inspiration, my love, Rihanna.”
This cultural moment would not be the end of Rihanna’s groundbreaking outfits. Rihanna’s outfit to the 2015 Met Gala — themed “China: Through the Looking Glass” — weighed nearly fifty pounds, the bulk of it composed by an astonishing yellow fur coat from featured designer Guo Pei. For the 2017 Met Gala, Rihanna appeared in a dress made of carefully constructed rosettes from Rei Kawakubo.
We can all recall her 2018 Met Gala outfit for the theme Heavenly Bodies, when she served as co-host and appeared in a heavily pope-inspired look. The singer wore a jewel-encrusted robe and dress set from Margiela, a matching papal mitre and bejeweled Louboutin heels.
Rihanna still continues to shatter norms now.
Most recently, she appeared in a Miu Miu mesh crystal set with her baby bump on show in May 2022, shocking expectations of drab maternity clothing that hide the belly. Her iconic streetwear style made waves when she appeared in a slate-blue ribbed knit Alaïa set that consisted of a crop top and a low-waisted maxi skirt to show her pregnancy, which she accessorized with a blue camouflage Dior saddle bag.
Other notable maternity outfits include her first reveal of her pregnancy to the press, decked in a Chanel pink puffer coat without a shirt and low-rise Vetements jeans, and her appearance in Gucci’s Fall 2022 fashion show in Milan, in which she wore dragon-embroidered jeans, a latex crop top and a lavender faux fur coat.
Rihanna’s last album, “ANTI,” dropped in 2016. Since then, she has taken on her own fashion ventures, including makeup brand Fenty Beauty and fashion lingerie empire Savage x Fenty. While many fans would like to see her return to music, Rihanna remains a pop culture icon — whether through her iconic outfits, or media presence through her brands — and she will continue to subvert expectations.